Exactly one month from today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will start training camp. While it’s still weeks away, and most guys are on vacation (hey, Lovie Smith encouraged it), there are a number of positions battles that remain unsolved, setting the stage for one exciting camp, especially when you factor in all of the newcomers. Here are three newcomers I’m looking forward to watching most, who could earn jobs for themselves:
In minicamp, Patrick Omameh took first team reps at the right guard position, a pretty explosive jump. An undrafted free agent signed off the 49ers practice squad, Omameh didn’t appear in a single game for Tampa Bay last year, so as far as I’m concerned, and for the sake of this piece, he is a newcomer. He’s got some mighty big shoes to fill in the absence of Davin Joseph, even if the former Pro Bowler’s performance last season was hampered by injuries.
“For him to be working with the group, tells you what we think of him and what he’s done right now,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “I think he’ll be in the mix.” Smith admitted that it is difficult to evaluate players, particularly linemen, when they aren’t in pads and there’s no contact permitted, although Omameh has an excellent shot to earn himself a job. “We like where he is, he’s done everything, I’m excited about the prospects of him being a good lineman for us, but we need to get to training camp.”
Between his college tape from Michigan and his performances in OTAs and minicamp, you can see he’s got a nice mix of athleticism (particularly important for Jeff Tedford’s offense) and power. He comes across as a bright guy who’s instinctive and moves well at 6 foot 4, 305 pounds. The only caveats for him coming out of college were his hand placement, being able to finish his blocks and pad level, which are all correctable with the right coaching.
The third receiver spot will be up for grabs and a number of guys will be challenging for it. Louis Murphy and Chris Owusu both impressed at minicamp. Murphy looked to be quarterback Josh McCown’s favorite target, catching just about everything thrown his way and he’s shown his versatility lining up outside too. He also brings a veteran presence, something the team hasn’t had at that spot outside of Vincent Jackson.
The Bucs are Murphy’s fourth team in six years. He hasn’t shown the 4.32 speed that shot his draft stock up considerably when he came out of Florida, and his performance last year with the Giants may have been the worst of his career. But now that he’s returned to health, he’s shown he’s got a good grasp of Jeff Tedford’s offense and has the potential to be a very productive receiver, especially after watching all the quick strikes McCown was darting off to him.
Another to watch in this particular department is veteran Lavelle Hawkins, who played for Tedford at Cal.
D.J. Moore didn’t participate in minicamp due to an undisclosed injury but he is still likely considered the front-runner to land the nickel back job.
“We’ve got some competition there, but D.J.’s history and background kind of gives him the leg up right now,’’ said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier after the team’s final OTA workout. So unless strong performances from Danny Gorrer changed the coaching staff’s minds, it’s Moore’s to lose come July.
The nickel back is practically a starter in Lovie Smith’s defense, as is the case in many defenses these days, seeing action for about 50-percent of the snaps on defense. Moore spent two years as Smith’s nickel back in Chicago.
Though undersized at 5 foot 9, Moore’s a very intelligent player, he’s instinctive and he’s a natural ball-hawk with good jumping ability. He’s tough and despite his physical shortcomings, he’s shown he can be a pretty decent run defender.
Of course, Moore will face some heavy competition from Leonard Johnson and whoever loses the battle between Mike Jenkins and Johnthan Banks for the second starting job opposite Alterraun Verner. Gorrer and Rashaan Melvin both got their hands on some balls in minicamp too. Meaning the team looks to have some real depth at an important position.